Ministers on both sides condemn violent clashes in Northern Ireland
Updated 09:51, 09-Apr-2021
Iolo ap Dafydd

Northern Ireland ministers have come out to condemn the "deplorable" violence of the past few days. According to Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill, it is a "miracle" that no one has been killed after more than a week of riots, with over 50 police officers injured under a barrage of bricks and petrol bombs.

There is grave concern that the disturbances in several towns – especially Belfast and Londonderry – have included children as young as 12 and 13 confronting the police. 

Some scenes have been reminiscent of decades-old conflict, even if some of the youths causing most of the damage were not even born at the height of the Troubles between Irish republicans and pro-British loyalist groups.  

The Good Friday Agreement signed 23 years ago ended decades of violence, with its anniversary due this weekend, on April 10. However, this week has seen rioting, which appears pre-planned, as frustrations boiled over. 

In Stormont Castle, the Northern Irish Assembly held an emergency meeting to support the police and call for an immediate end to violence. 

During the debate, Arlene Foster, First Minister of Northern Ireland and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, said "The harm to Northern Ireland's image in this, our centenary year, has taken us backwards. And no brick, no bottle, no petrol bomb thrown has achieved or can ever achieve anything but destruction, harm and fear." 

Her party shares political power in an uneasy coalition with Sinn Fein, the main nationalist party that supports a united Ireland. 

A burnt-out bus. /AP

A burnt-out bus. /AP

Michelle O'Neill, the Deputy First Minister and leader of Sinn Fein, echoed Foster's comments. "Nobody could fail to be alarmed by the fact that these are young people – children as young as 13, barely a teenager – that are involved in rioting, both at Sandy Row and then last night, again, similar scenes at Lanark Way," she said.

"It's not right, it's dangerous, it is unacceptable, and it is a miracle that as we stand here today that no one has been killed." 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has voiced his "deep concern" at scenes in a part of the United Kingdom that has been impacted more than any other by the decision to leave the European Union. 

There is anger at how Brexit affects trade differently to the rest of the UK since January and growing tension over the Irish Sea border, with a growing realization over just how differently Northern Ireland is treated from the rest of the UK.

The Northern Ireland Protocol has increased checks and disrupted some goods moving between Northern Ireland and Great Britain – the landmass including England, Scotland and Wales, across the Irish Sea. 

Nationalists and loyalists clash at the peace wall. /AP

Nationalists and loyalists clash at the peace wall. /AP

Boris Johnson has dispatched Brandon Lewis, his secretary of state for Northern Ireland, to Belfast for urgent talks.  

The European Commission on Thursday also strongly condemned the violence.

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms the acts of violence that have occurred in Northern Ireland over the past days. Nobody has anything to gain from this. We call on all those involved to refrain immediately from these violent acts," commission's chief spokesperson Eric Mamer wrote on Twitter.

So far, the police have arrested almost a dozen rioters, including a 13-year-old boy. However, confidence in the police force has been dented with calls earlier this week by Foster for the chief constable to resign. 

All political parties have criticized the disorder – but they remain divided on the causes of the riots. There are many grievances, primarily bottled up by COVID-19 lockdowns, policing, social issues and local politics.

There has been anger at prominent Sinn Fein politicians attending a funeral during lockdown last summer – ignoring local regulations. Moreover, there have been unlawful marches and loyalist funerals, too, at which COVID-19 rules were flouted.

Some sinister and criminal elements within the communities encourage youths to get involved and turn to violence. Some shops have had to close early, and bus services and some food delivery vans canceled because of fears for workers' safety. 

(Video editing: Steve Ager)

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